JURIST >> LEGAL NEWS >> Milosevic Trial >> How Milosevic Can Win 


Zoran Stanojevic, Vreme

[Special to JURIST] Slobodan Milosevic is a cyber-age gladiator. He is a captured outlaw, brought to the arena - and we have no doubt that he is there to lose. But we want to see him fight first.

In this sense, his trial will be as fair as the combats that once took place in Roman Coliseum. While the ICTY prosecution has all the money, and literally a world of staff, Milosevic's legal team is limited to six lawyers and advisors.

The Hague Tribunal is not about war crimes and justice, however. Otherwise we will have an army of journalists covering the mass graves (crucial evidence) that are emerging these days throughout Serbia. Oh, we know everything about those, we don't need to see them again, and, after all, they've been reported. True. But imagine the media overkill if the body of one US serviceman were found there. Imagine if three were found.

Ironically, Milosevic will be tried because he lost the war and his power. There are no war crime indictments for winners and there will never be any (as if they were all God's angels...). The loser takes it all. That is why such tribunals have little to do with law in the sense of rules that apply equally to everyone. They truly are political courts established by the democracies. Milosevic's verdict has already been determined by public opinion, and the judges' job is to set a fair penalty for him. Unlike O.J., there is no unfitting glove that can save this man.

He has to pay because we failed (to stop him). Or we didn't try. Or we didn't try hard enough. If we had used the money that is and will be spent for war crime trials in The Hague (an enormous amount) in a different way, those crimes might have been prevented.

Milosevic is therefore fighting not a legal, but a political battle. And he truly understands that. The funny thing is that it's a political battle he cannot win. It's a democratic decision, remember, and we are all voting against him (personally, I already did, more than once in the past 13 years). But a legal trial is another story - it's not about what people think, it's about what you can prove in court. We all KNOW he is guilty - but can we PROVE it, really?

That is why Milosevic has to change this whole story and make people interested in process rather than in substance. If he can prove that the trial is wrongful and unfair he stands a chance.

As a gladiator, he needs a show - the best show in town - and I doubt that some Russian, Chinese or Greek super-lawyer can provide that. Who would you like to see sitting next to him in order for you to stay glued to your TV throughout this whole story? I'd like to see Johnny Cochran, for example. Let him go to The Hague and you will see people (democracy working in reverse) changing their minds. We would have a show, and we would want to see Johnny winning against all odds. We wouldn't care about the crime, we would want the game: lots of turnovers, with a twist at the end...

Once the trial becomes dramatic, Milosevic can put more trump cards on the table. He needs a Jewish lawyer to answer genocide issues. More big names who can invite Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Boris Yeltsin, Tony Blair, George Bush (the retired one), Richard Holbrook and the likes to testify, until it becomes unclear who's on trial. The victims of the crimes wouldn't do any good for the prosecution anymore, since they would't be able to connect those crimes with Milosevic. And who would dare to bring a weak witness to this shark pool?

It would make a superb trial with many important issues raised. Milosevic would eventually lose it, but he might win at sentencing because people would think he is not THAT guilty after all, and that he wasn't alone in this. Several years in a nice prison (he is 60), and he might get out on some kind of parole.

Of course, given all that I know about Milosevic, this will never happen. He will continue with his stubborn tactic of not recognizing the court, fighting his personal battle against the world, eventually hiring some average lawyers who will see his case only as a promotional opportunity - giving a performance that will only confirm in our belief that he has to go down, and there's been no mistake.

But in my opinion the worst thing is that Milosevic's trial won't change anything. It won't teach anyone a lesson (apart from putting one man behind bars). The world won't be a better place after it. It may in fact be worse - we may start believing that trial is a remedy for war crimes.

Zoran Stanojevic is a journalist and the English-language news digest editor at VREME, an independent weekly newsmagazine based in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. He also reports for MSNBC.COM.

July 15, 2001


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